Shelter from the Storm: Protesters Turn to Local Business Owners for Support

It’s been a tough year for small business owners. Generally speaking, around 50% of small businesses fail within their first five years – and that’s without a global pandemic. The coronavirus has shuttered thousands of small and mid-sized businesses across the country, including restaurants, gyms, salons, and mom-and-pop retailers.

Just as many businesses are starting to reopen, much of the country is protesting the death of George Floyd, the unarmed black man who lost his life after a white police officer pinned him to the ground with his knee for over eight minutes. Some of these protests have turned violent as individuals smash store windows and defame public property. It’s unclear who’s responsible for the violence, but some are pointing their fingers at out-of-towners and white supremacists that may be looking to inflame racial and political tensions.

Several small business owners have had their stores damaged during the protests, but that hasn’t stopped them from giving back to those protesting the murder of George Floyd. See how they’re standing up to racial discrimination and supporting protesters during this uncertain time.

Open, Closed, Open, and Closed Again

Small business owners are suffering from whiplash as they try to keep up with the latest safety precautions. We started off the year with a strong economy, but the pandemic forced these businesses to close their doors for months on end. Many were able to apply for federal funding through the Paycheck Protection Program, but the bulk of those funds have gone to mid- and large-sized businesses. Independent store owners in major American cities were in the process of reopening their doors when another national emergency struck: the death of George Floyd.

We are shining a light on two small businesses owners who are currently dealing with the fallout of the protests and how they turned this grim moment into one of solidarity.

Safia Munye, a Somali immigrant, has owned and operated a restaurant in the heart of downtown Minneapolis for two years. The restaurant fell on hard times during the pandemic, but the community was able to raise more than $180,000 to help Munye and her family reopen the store. That was just as the protests over the murder of George Floyd were starting to break out. The restaurant burned down during the protests, but instead of blaming protesters, Munye wants justice for the Floyd family.

As a Somali immigrant, she understands the pain and outrage of the protesters in her city and around the world. In a recent interview, she said, “My heart is broken. My mind is broken. I know I can’t come back from this. But this can be replaced. George’s life cannot. George’s life was more important. That man that got killed in the most inhumane way. I hope he gets justice.”

Helping Protesters in Need

Hasfa Islam and his family are proud owners of the Gandhi Mahal Restaurant in Minneapolis. They opened the restaurant in the middle of the Great Recession back in 2008 and have survived everything that has since come their way. They were horrified to see that their restaurant had burned down after a night of city-wide protests. The restaurant was their only source of income, but instead of getting angry, they chose to stay positive and make the best of the situation. As Mr. Islam told the New York Times, “We can rebuild a building, but we cannot rebuild a human. The community is still here, and we can work together to rebuild.”

The restaurant is just a few doors down from the Minneapolis Police Department Third Precinct, which was ablaze on Thursday night. The fire quickly spread to the Gandhi Mahal restaurant. As the protests went on, Islam and his family saw hundreds of protesters running from the police. The police were using tear gas and rubber bullets on the protesters, so Islam and his family offered a safe haven to those in the streets.

Islam and his family opened up the restaurant to a medical team who turned the place into a makeshift hospital, and at least 200 people have come and gone over the last few days. Some protesters just needed a place to rest for a few hours, while others were treated for superficial injuries, including one woman who had been hit in the eye with a rubber bullet. Another man had his neck torn open by a rubber bullet. Medics were able to operate on him on a table in the restaurant.

Mr. Islam went on to say, “We were just trying to do what we could to help our community. Sure, we had our business. Sure, we were trying to keep our kitchen open. But more than anything, we were concerned for our people.”

Coming from Bangladesh, Islam and his family are all too familiar with the importance of protesting and speaking truth to power. They grew up under a dictatorship in their home country, which prompted them to flee to the U.S. in search of a better life.

These business owners are putting their personal concerns aside to stand up for racial equality and justice. If you own a small business or know someone who does, that’s just another good reason to look for ways to support your community during this difficult time.

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